I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Mental Health Lessons Learned from Books Read During Pandemic Teaching

 ...and in order to keep coming back to them, I'm writing them into one post.

These first three books I read prior to the pandemic. The lessons I remembered from them helped me during the pandemic.

Fewer Things, Better - 1) Check email only at one or two certain times per day. (This did NOT work during remote and hybrid teaching!) This goes for a TON of apps and websites, actually - it helps me be more present in each moment. 2) What do I want my legacy to be? Do that. 3) Who says you have to (insert job here - ex: send home weekly updates to parents)? Many of the rules I follow are my OWN. I probably don't even need to (insert job here - ex: this past school year I sent monthly updates to parents). What pressures have I put on myself that I can make easier for myself? My original reflection is HERE

The Zen Teacher - 1) Do one thing for myself every day. 2) Be present in the moments - the still and chaotic moments. 3) Declutter a part of your life - get rid of what you don't need and/or what you're not using. My original reflection is HERE

Teaching Well - 1) When we are the most overwhelmed with work is when we NEED to stop and take care of ourselves - put away the work, get some exercise, water and sleep, and experience a bit of your life outside the classroom walls. Psychologist Simone McCreary - "There is plenty of evidence that we do better in our career when we make self-care a priority... Regular physical activity activates our neuroplasticity, which increases our creativity and focus. Exercise rejuvenates our willpower" (16). 2) David Irvine - "Self-care is a responsibility. If we don't take care of ourselves, we eventually won't be able to carry the responsibility of caring for others" (18). There will always be work - the work for teachers does not end. My original reflection is HERE.   Another reflection on these first three books is HERE.

The next few books are in order of when I read them.

The Other Half of Happy by Barcarcel - "...we are all unfinished. And unfinished is fine."

Hearts Unbroken by Smith - "Every breath is a victory."

How to Disappear Completely by Standish - "...the battles we fight always change us. When we are fighting them, all we can see is how they wound us. But they can change us for the better, too."

Essentialism - The word "priority" was intended to be singular. What's my ONE priority? My health - mental and physical. Everything I decide to do (or not do) should be good for my health. My original reflection is HERE. 

The Canyon's Edge by Bowling- "Being alive means / sorrow, joy, pain, love, anger. / Feeling all the things."

Learned Optimism - 1) Being pessimistic can make me physically sick, as it actually lowers my immunity. Therefore, it's unhealthy to use my time ruminating on bad moments or situations. Know that what I'm going through (bad OR good) is temporary. 2) Have hope, and make practicing gratitude a habit. My original reflection is HERE. 

Strange the Dreamer by Taylor - "And that's how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can."

Untamed by Doyle - I've felt this way before, and I'll feel this way again. Notice the feelings, feel them, and then consider, "What do I do next?" Act on it.

The Book of Joy - 1) I can only do so much. Although I can't change the world today, I can make a difference with one, two, or even more students EACH day. 2) Practice gratitude and compassion - I'm excited to find ways for my students to practice compassion, as well. My original reflection is HERE.

Efrén Divided by Cisneros - "Somehow, you just do what needs to be done... whether it's fair to you or not."

Sunday, June 20, 2021

What I'll Keep and What I Hope We Toss

I keep feeling the need to document my thoughts about this past year. I feel the need to make it into a HUGE learning opportunity. Sooo, not including things I normally do, such as music and a soft start at the beginning of each class...

Here's what I plan to toss, or things I hope go far, far away...

  • changing plans and schedules all year (see timeline in my blog post) ✔
  • spraying tables ✔
  • cheap toppling tray tables (kids call them ironing boards) ✔
  • individual tables facing front in rows
  • taking attendance online every class period
  • car parades for graduating students (if we're having graduations)
  • students at home and in person in each of our classes ✔
  • quarantined kids at home on Zoom (although this might be easier than them leaving for two weeks and coming back after having a "remote teacher...")  ✔
  • masks 🤞🏻

Here's what I hope to keep, or what I hope stays...

  • (Look through my self-help books for notes!!)
  • keep my physical and mental health my ONE priority
  • be fully present in each moment
  • drink a ton of water
  • three deep breaths with eyes closed when I'm upset
  • do not read work emails outside of work time (except for Sunday around dinner time)
  • one intention per week
  • listen more than I talk
  • routine
  • organized plans / easily found
  • digital absent folder ✔
  • free lunches for students ✔
  • virtual staff meetings
  • practice gratitude with my students
  • postcards sent to students' houses
  • small, mobile tables (instead of the big tables they took away)
  • no need for lockers - fewer disruptions and clean ups
  • me using the washroom during independent reading (if needed)
  • velcro dots on carpet
  • mood meter and / or Jamboard check in (on Mondays, especially)
  • asking students what they feel they need to discuss, then providing the time and space for them to do so (while I facilitate and keep my opinions to myself)
  • walks around the building when it's nice - walk and talk?
  • big chunks of plan time
  • when something bugs me, do not ruminate - act - do something for myself or others
  • my shield - to protect against parent ire

What I hope to do that I didn't get to do this year...

  • Establish expectations from the start. With the FIVE changes we had this past year, we didn't have time to establish them well.
  • Try some sort of genius hour or choice research project.
  • Keep a good attitude amongst staff and online (At least I did well in front of the students!)
  • Find ways to practice compassion with my students.
  • No grade in the grade book until the end of the term. I felt like such a hypocrite this year, even if it was probably easier on me and my students by using grades.

sounds like a plan

Here are some other posts I'd like to curate here for my own refreshers... what did other educators learn? I'll be adding more as I come across them:

Writing Teacher Melanie Meehan

What teachers have done this past year.

Look at All We've Gained During the Pandemic

5 Things I Liked About Pandemic Education (HS Student)

Why Remote Learning Would Have Been Perfect for Me

Friday, June 11, 2021

2020-2021 Digital Scrapbook

I really didn't think I'd do much professionally this school year... 

          except TEACH MY HEART OUT!

Before I start, I want to make a timeline of what my own personal school year PHYSICALLY looked like...

  • Summer had us "all in," until suddenly we were "all remote."
  • September 1 - we started all remote. Teachers taught from the school building unless they qualified for accommodations. (September 4 - I cried like I haven't cried since going through my divorce. I thought nothing could be worse than teaching students on a screen.)
  • October 19 - my grade (7th) came for hybrid. T/Th were kids with last names A-K. W/F were kids with last names L-Z. Mondays were remote for everyone, and the schedule was different, to allow for teachers to plan for this absolute madness. I found out that there IS something worse than teaching ONLY students on a screen. Kids were sometimes in the building, and sometimes not, and we really had no clue who would be in front of us and who would be at home. Getting attendance  right each period was vital, due to contact tracing, and it took a good five minutes (after spraying tables and getting kids into Zoom)...
  • December 2 at the end of the day - teachers at OUR school (just one of two middle and nine elementaries) were sent home due to the IDPH "strongly suggesting" we close the school because of the number of cases we'd had on the second floor.
  • December 8 we could teach from the building once again; all students were remote.
  • December 15 we were back to hybrid.
  • December 18 we were back to remote. (Yes. One day before winter break.)
  • January 19 we were back to hybrid. My planning partner/friend started an FML.
  • January 21 we were "all in" (with kids still on Zoom). Of course, it happened again. "All in" is at the discretion of parents who chose this option. My NEW planning partner suddenly had to teach remotely. This was the third hardest day of my school year.
  • January 26 I wrote a "glimpse in the day of a middle school teacher" to the school board - it was the next hardest day of my school year. Oh, and the sub had a sub. And I was writing sub plans AND going into school. Who knew it could get more difficult?
  • April 26th we were "all in" (with kids still on Zoom) EVERY day of the week. No more remote Mondays. No more "all in one place at least once a week." No more 1:1 conversations with kids. No more breakout rooms. No matter what I said, did, who I wrote, who I cried to. If my voice was heard, it was not valued.

- Nada. Zip. Zilch.

- Um... all on my own, with tech teachers from my school and other teachers who'd tried it... I learned how to use a second monitor. I remember educators on Twitter saying once you use it, you can't go back, and now I know how that rings true!

- I learned how to use an external camera, a document camera, and Apple AirPlay. I learned how to make magic using my hands and by growing an extra eye somehow to see the kids, the work, the direct messages, the emails, the GChat pop ups, etc.
- I learned how to keep work at work (really for the most part), so I can decompress and process the day at home.

- #DitchSummit thanks to Matt Miller and sooooo many fabulous educators!

- I signed up for the Leading Equity Summit thanks to Sheldon L. Eakins and sooooo many fabulous presenters... but I never made it to the videos on time, due to the insurrection at the Capitol and my need to know what was happening. I made it last year, and I'll make it NEXT YEAR again, for sure.
- Doodle & Chat - 1/30/21 - the theme was "explore."
- Began (and continued until June) #UWIEquity Challenge (weekly)

- "The Year of You" one-hour workshop hosted by Jen Vincent / Story Exploratory. I wasn't brave. As soon as she said, "We're going to go into breakout rooms," I bolted. I'd be a terrible remote student.
- EdCamp Madison! One Zoom link for the entire day. Nice to be able to talk with educators going through the same things.
- Began (and still continuing) a @MoocTsl class through MIT - #TSLEquity

- EdCamp Elmbrook! Again, nice to have people who understood each other. I hosted a gratitude session for us to write letters or emails.

- June 11th - our last day of this school year. I survived, and I was fortunate to be able to keep my family safe. I will learn from the scars. I was able to reach a couple of students in a couple of ways, and I enjoyed just being able to be me with the seventh graders the last few weeks.
- Completed the weekly #UWIEquity Challenge. 

LIFE LESSONS this school year:
  • I REALLY learned what I need to do in order to care for myself - mentally and physically. I hope I can call on these skills if/when life ever gets back to some semblance of "normal."
  • I learned how to SLOW DOWN.
  • I only have students for 80 min/day. I can only do so much. I'll simply try my best.
  • I will strive for smiles and conversations every day.

Teagan (student who painted this) said, "That's YOU!"